Tennessee Volunteers vs. Missouri Tigers Complete Game Preview
The Tennessee football program already was teetering on the brink of making a coaching move when Missouri rolled into Knoxville last year.
A four-overtime, 51-48 victory by the Tigers put yet another nail in Derek Dooley's ultimate big orange coffin. Mizzou quarterback James Franklin found then-freshman Dorial Green-Beckham for a 25-yard touchdown pass with 47 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
After regulation ended, neither team could stop the other. Both scored touchdowns on their first three extra-session possessions. Neither could complete the necessary two-point conversion in the third overtime.
The Vols failed on fourth down in the fourth overtime, and Missouri's Andrew Baggett kicked a field goal for the win.
Baggett's heroics in that game probably feel far away after the kicker clanked a chip-shot field goal off the upright in the second overtime of a 27-24 loss to South Carolina last week. That setback was No. 10 Mizzou's first of the season and provided a serious blow to the Tigers' improbable national championship hopes.
Now, the Tigers will focus on retaining their lead in the SEC East as they welcome the Vols to Columbia. Tennessee is licking its wounds from a 45-10 thumping at the hands of the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.
Here's everything you need to know about this week's game:
Date: Saturday, Nov. 2
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Place: Memorial Stadium, Columbia, Mo.
Radio: Vol Network, Tiger Radio Network, Sirius 137/XM 198
Spread: Missouri by 12.5 points, according to Sportsbook.com
Tennessee Keys to Victory
Protect the Quarterback
Michael Sam and the Mizzou defensive line have been perhaps the most impressive unit in the SEC.
They get to the quarterback at breakneck pace—leading the league and tied for 12th in the nation with 25 sacks—and are tied for seventh in the FCS in turnover ratio thanks to 15 interceptions.
When teams have time to throw, however, they've had success. The Tigers are last in the league in pass defense, allowing 284.2 yards per game.
Knoxville's WNML radio personality, Jimmy Hyams, reported Tuesday that UT quarterback Justin Worley will be out for a while with torn ligaments in his right thumb, and Josh Dobbs will start against Missouri.
That means Mizzou will bring the house more often than not. UT's offensive line must be up to the challenge of protecting him, and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian needs to dial up draws and quick-hit passes to keep the Tigers honest.
Pressure the Quarterback
Mizzou backup quarterback Maty Mauk has done a stellar job replacing the injured James Franklin, but the Gamecocks proved he can be erratic if pressured. Mauk finished 10-of-25 passing for 249 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
There is also the possibility that Franklin will play against Tennessee, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Dave Matter.
UT's pass rush had been its strongest in five years this season leading up to the Alabama game but rarely got near AJ McCarron. Corey Vereen needs to be on the field more than just in situational downs, and UT has to get production out of seniors like Corey Miller and Marlon Walls against the Tigers.
No matter which quarterback plays, pressure is a must—especially considering Franklin still may be favoring his hurt shoulder.
Take Out the Crowd
The house was rocking in Memorial Stadium during last week's night game against South Carolina, but once the Gamecocks weathered that emotional storm, they came back to win.
The Vols don't have the firepower to erase a 17-point deficit like the Gamecocks.
Tennessee needs to do something big early like score a quick touchdown, get a turnover or make a special teams play to deflate that momentum. If UT gets an early upper hand, it doesn't have a huge talent hurdle to overcome and should compete.
Missouri Keys to Victory
Exploit Size Advantage
Missouri's stable of wide receivers is impressive statistically as well as physically.
L'Damian Washington, Marcus Lucas and Dorial Green-Beckham stand 6'4", 6'5" and 6'6", respectively. That's a matchup nightmare for anybody the Tigers play.
Tennessee's secondary has had its struggles this season in man coverage, and even superfreshman Cameron Sutton had his issues against Alabama. If whoever plays quarterback for Missouri has time to throw, he will just loft it up and let his big-bodied targets wrestle with smaller corners.
It's difficult to see UT being able to stop this, so pressure is a must.
It's going to be a hostile environment, and Josh Dobbs will be making his first career collegiate start. Mizzou is going to do everything in its power to make things uncomfortable on Tennessee's heady freshman.
UT needs to be able to move the pocket and design some high-percentage plays to get Dobbs' confidence up, and if that doesn't happen, there really won't be anywhere else for the Vols to turn with all the injuries at quarterback.
Look for Mizzou to use various blitz packages and also try to bait Dobbs downfield by disguising coverages. Sacking him early or forcing a turnover would be an ideal start. No matter how intelligent Dobbs is, if he starts questioning himself, he's playing into the Tigers' strengths.
Don't let all the Tigers' size fool you. They're still going to try to get in space against a slow UT defense.
As evidenced by AJ McCarron's 54-yard touchdown pass on a bubble screen to Amari Cooper last week, the Vols haven't solved their issues tackling on the perimeter. With the big, physical receivers blocking, Gary Pinkel will undoubtedly try to get his playmakers on the edge with a receiver in front.
The Vols can't afford to get isolated, and they have to take much better angles. If not, Mizzou can gash them.
Players to Watch for Tennessee
Tennessee fans have been clamoring all season for head coach Butch Jones to insert one of his highly rated true freshman quarterbacks to see what he can do.
Now that Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman are not healthy, Jones has no choice.
Dobbs had a solid debut against Alabama, but the Crimson Tide aren't known for their ability to pressure quarterbacks. Missouri presents a different, faster challenge, and Dobbs will have to grow up a ton.
His performance will dictate whether Tennessee wins or loses, and UT had better hope he excels. The Vols would hate to have to pull the redshirt off Riley Ferguson as well.
The senior running back is still on pace to have a career season, but his numbers have declined in the past two games against South Carolina and Alabama.
Neal has 147 yards on 37 carries with a couple of scores against the Gamecocks and Tide. Those aren't bad stats, but he and backfield mate Marlin Lane will be called on to take a load of pressure off Dobbs this week.
That's a tall order against a strong rush defense allowing just 111 rushing yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry.
This will be the offensive line's biggest test, and it's up to Neal and the big guys up front to make the transition to Dobbs seamless.
If there were any doubt who Tennessee's defensive MVP is, there isn't after the Alabama game.
Once Randolph tore his anterior cruciate ligament last year, the Vols defense was historically horrible. When Randolph didn't play in the first half last week due to a nagging injury, UA scored every time it touched the ball.
When Randolph re-entered, the game was out of hand, but it at least got a bit less bloody. The redshirt sophomore is expected to play against Mizzou, but he's still banged up. The Vols need a career game from its leader helping against these receivers.
Players to Watch for Missouri
Tennessee coach Butch Jones knows all about Missouri's freshman quarterback, who is still likely to get the start Saturday as James Franklin continues to rehab his injury.
Mauk's brother played for Jones at Cincinnati, and the Bearcats tried desperately to get him in black and red. Said Jones at this week's press conference, via UTSports.com:
Well we were engaged in a great recruiting battle. Maty Mauk's a winner. He's the son of a football coach, so he's a gym rat. He grew up with a football in his hand since the day he was born. I'd said he's a winner and he's a playmaker. He's a very very talented quarterback.
Mauk is yet another quarterback who can beat teams with his arm or legs, and UT will need to play very well in the front seven to neutralize him.
The 6'2", 255-pound senior defensive end is in the midst of a breakout season, amassing 10 sacks and 16 tackles for a loss thus far.
He's going to provide at least as big a test for Tennessee as Jadeveon Clowney. He had back-to-back three-sack games against Florida and Vanderbilt and has terrorized offenses all year.
The Vols have a lot of experience and pride up front. Sam will probably get the assignment of Antonio "Tiny" Richardson, and Tiny must have a huge game.
The former top-ranked overall recruit in the 247Sports composite rankings has emerged from a forgettable freshman season to start realizing his massive potential.
He has 31 catches for 457 yards and four touchdowns and has burned opponents who've applied extra attention to L'Damian Washington. With Cameron Sutton likely drawing Washington, Green-Beckham may find himself on Justin Coleman, and he'll have a decisive size advantage there.
He's the type of player who can take over a game much like Calvin Johnson in the NFL. The Vols have to find an answer for his size and game-breaking ability.
What They Are Saying
Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett has endured a nasty onslaught of Twitter hatred after missing a game-tying, second-overtime field goal in last week's loss to South Carolina.
His teammates tried to pick him up, according to this story by The Kansas City Star's Vahe Gregorian.
Baggett tried to put on a brave face, according to Gregorian, talking about his own personal feelings following the miss.
"Nobody's comment will ever make me feel worse than what I did on that field," he said. "The negative comments, I don't pay attention to that. That doesn't affect me."
Tennessee junior offensive tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson is known as being the Vols' vocal leader on the field. He's also one of the most verbally volatile players off it.
In the emotional moments after UT was embarrassed at Alabama, Richardson guaranteed a win over Missouri, according to Tennessee Sports Radio's Christian Lundy.
"Like I said snap and clear. That's all we've got to do," Richardson said. "And we'll beat Missouri. I promise you that."
Tennessee coach Butch Jones told GoVols247's Wes Rucker (subscription required) on Tuesday night that Justin Worley would be out an "indefinite period of time" with a thumb injury. It's essentially the same injury that has sidelined Nathan Peterman since the Florida game.
It's been an unusual year. In 26 years of coaching, I've never had one thumb injury (to a quarterback), and now you have two in the same year. That's just the way it goes.
We said (Saturday) it's an ever-changing process, a day-by-day process. So with further follow-up and examination, he went in and had surgery on his thumb. He'll be out an indefinite period of time. Everything is how the body heals. It could be two weeks. It could be three weeks. It could be four weeks. We'll see how he progresses, but he was at practice afterwards.
Tennessee 27, Missouri 23
The Vols have struggled on the road all season. They'll be starting a true freshman quarterback and playing against an angry Tigers team ready to rebound after a double-overtime loss to South Carolina.
So, why will the Vols upset Mizzou?
Tennessee has done a great job this season of having short-term memory, which it will need after getting embarrassed at Alabama. Meanwhile, the Tigers have dealt with all the post-first-loss questions and second-guesses this week.
They're also unsure what's going to happen at quarterback, whether James Franklin is going to be healthy enough to play or if it'll be Maty Mauk again. There are a lot of extra-curricular things swirling around both programs.
But after last week's loss and the offensive injury questions facing the Tigers, this just feels like one of those games where UT will grind out Signature Win No. 2.